Close call
Quebec adventurer plunges through ice

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Resolute Bay (May 01/00) - A strong drive not to panic is likely what saved the life of a Quebec man who went through the ice north of Resolute Bay last week.

Pierre Ratelle, 49, of Ste-Anne Des Lacs said after he plunged through the ice near Hyde Parker Island, he saw the face of a friend telling him to remain calm.

"I went into the water over my head," said Ratelle, warm and rested from a room at the Inns North hotel in Resolute Bay on Saturday morning.

"I thought of my friend and I saw his face and he said don't panic."

The 25-year municipal police officer said his nearly fatal ordeal began Tuesday afternoon, three weeks after he and fellow Quebec resident Bruno Thibeault began their skiing trek to the Magnetic North Pole.

Setting out on April 3, the pair -- attempting to raise money for the Quebec Cancer Foundation -- skied north, each hauling two pulkas weighing a total of 325 pounds.

Accompanied by Kiri, a Resolute Bay husky brought along to ward off bears, they encountered cold weather and good ice conditions for the first two weeks. Things changed when warmer temperatures in the third week brought them into contact with bad ice.

Ratelle said he knew he was in trouble, but before he could backtrack he crashed through the ice. He quickly unbuckled himself from his pulkas and attempted to haul himself out of the water.

"I tried to get over (the edge), but it was always breaking. Bruno was yelling 'don't stop, you can do it.' But he couldn't help me because it was too dangerous and he would have fallen in," said Ratelle.

After breaking through another 15 to 20 feet of ice trying to climb out, Ratelle finally managed to grab onto two poles Thibeault joined together.

"He saved my life," he said.

Ratelle immediately stripped out of his sodden clothes and dressed himself in some of Thibeault's dry gear. The pair survived for the next three days on their remaining rations, but because their satellite phone was with the more than $20,000 in equipment strapped to Ratelle's pulkas, they were unable to call for help.

Ratelle's family became concerned when their daily phone calls ceased and Cpl. Lorne Adamitz of the Resolute Bay detachment said he initiated a search after Ratelle's spouse contacted him.

"We got the plane up in the air and it was actually pretty quick. We went straight to their last known location and there they were," said Adamitz.

Ratelle and Thibeault flew back to Montreal yesterday and while the pair were happy to be alive, they were saddened by the death of Kiri. Strapped to the pulkas, the husky died during the accident.

Near tears, Ratelle said, "I prayed to God for my dog, but I lost her. We flew the plane over the place and I saw the pulkas and the body of my dog."